Although camp opened a couple of days ago for the veteran players on the Devils, it sort of feels more like a real beginning of camp this weekend to me with the team scrimmages starting this afternoon. Media day is more just an appetizer for the fans to get excited when everyone reports to camp in the best shape of their lives and in the best mindset to have career years. I still want to watch a few of the YouTubes of media day anyway – including Fitzy’s above, I’m a little behind on my podcast and YT viewing this week after watching PBS’s terrific mini-series on the boxer/activist Muhammad Ali the last few nights, but that’s neither here nor there.
I can’t claim that I’ll be locked into the scrimmages from whistle to whistle either, it’s hard for me to get motivated to watch games of the team playing each other. What do I root for or against? Scrimmages – and to a large extent the preseason – is for coaches a lot more than fans in my opinion. Coaches need to see how younger players progress and veteran acquisitions fit in and the Devils clearly have a lot of both. GM Tom Fitzgerald, coach Lindy Ruff and their staff will obviously have a lot to do in this preseason with still one of the youngest rosters in the league although supplemented by veteran acquisitions such as the biggest fish Dougie Hamilton and others like fellow d-man Ryan Graves and UFA signings Tomas Tatar and Johnathan Bernier. This isn’t going to be a full season preview, I’ll probably do one closer to the actual start of the regular season when we have a handle on what the lines and roster could look like.
I’m not going to lie, part of me still really wants to go back to the Prudential Center, even for the first preseason game against the Rangers in less than a week and I will be there, make no mistake. I’m just a little more wary of going to games at this point in general though, with the lack of a vaccine mandate to enter the Prudential Center. Granted I got mine a while ago, but as we’ve seen there are still breakthrough infections possible obviously. I’ve pretty much managed to avoid crowded indoor areas for extended periods of time apart from a trip to a local bar with friends here and there the last several months, but finally going back to hockey games again will be a different animal entirely from even that. A preseason game shouldn’t be too crowded under normal circumstances, though Friday night against the Rangers might be closer to a sellout than I’d be comfortable with at this point, especially with the limited number of fans allowed at the Rock last year the first preseason game and first regular season game will be coming out parties for many.
With no restrictions this year (to this point), you’re on top of people and they’re on top of you for extended lengths of time. I’m hopeful at some point early in the season maybe there will be a statewide mandate or arena vaccine mandate instituted, especially if ticket sales are down in part because people are still wary of going to big indoor gatherings. When/if there is a vaccine mandate instituted, I wouldn’t care at all about the indoor crowds or very little after that, aside from trying to avoid the normal wintertime sicknesses. Hopefully people will be smarter and stay home if feeling ill either way, but nobody ever likes to waste the money they drop on tickets. In the meantime I’ll likely try to sell far more pairs than normal though, especially since my friends are even more wary of going to games than I am right now. At least I have an excuse if the Devils ticket department gives me crap about selling more seats than usual, I’m sure I won’t be the only one either.
I don’t really want to spend a whole blog talking about the virus, vaccine mandates and regulations but my own thoughts on attending games kind of dovetail into the other immediate Devil concern on the ice right now – which is the revelation that according to Corey Masisak of the Athletic, the Devils have a ‘prominent’ unvaccinated player, one of only about a dozen in the entire league. Ironically, the league as a whole has really compelled more of its workforce to get the vaccine than I thought it would be able to at this point of camp, given all the public issues the NFL had with some of its players during its preseason. Of course, it would turn out one of our guys is probably the biggest-name holdout at this point. It would have been nice for Masisak to have gotten this right at first since he went on the record saying that all of the Devils’ active roster was vaccinated, then it was found out not to be true later on and he never apologized for having to retract later. You would think reporting would be better for the privilege of being on a pay site, but guess that wouldn’t have changed anything regardless.
If you do some Internet sleuthing one name keeps popping up more than anyone else, I don’t want to believe it or comment on this specific rumor in case god forbid the Internet is actually wrong, except to say this guy would certainly fit the prominent description and it’s hard for me to believe that anyone who was around the team last year when COVID blew up our season (and had the virus himself, as did pretty much the entire team) could possibly be a holdout on getting the vaccine now. Of course you can’t account for stubbornness, which is the most charitable adjective I’ll use. Our COVID break not only compressed our schedule but contributed to a lot of guys’ spotty play post-virus. I’ll have more to say on this specific player if this indeed turns out to be true and the player remains a holdout long enough for it to affect the team one way or another – either another COVID-related absence or this player just missing games because he can’t travel to or play in certain cities with stricter mandates. Not to mention the media and fan reaction spectacle he’ll put himself through when his reticence becomes public.
As much as I and others may not agree with this player’s decision I am glad the Devils are trying to keep his name out of the public record for as long as possible. It buys them some more time to have a good-faith discussion behind the scenes before it becomes the inevitable public spectacle it will become sooner or later if things remain status quo. Plus quite honestly, it’s a little harder to make a public example out of an important roster player than a minor-league/PTO guy like Zac Rinaldo or the bit player the Islanders more or less outed publicly and barred from camp. I’m not sure how much I agree with that but as with all things, the more expendable you are the more you can be made an example of. Hopefully there’ll be a meeting of the minds soon before this becomes an issue on and off the ice, since the player in question will have to miss every road trip to Canada at the very least. Thankfully that won’t occur till December but obviously a decision on the vaccine would have to be made before than for it to take effect.
Hopefully the player will join his teammates and most of the league in getting vaccinated, the team will come to its senses and institute vaccine mandates to enter the Rock and this’ll be the last time I feel compelled to use this blog to discuss it. Hopefully. People can talk about individual rights all they want, of course anyone has the right to not get the shot but in a team setting and a billion-dollar business there are gonna be consequences for that decision, which will ultimately affect more than just the individual. Which is why it’s next to impossible for me to avoid passing judgment on any player who makes that choice in a team sport where such far-reaching consequences exist. Especially for a franchise that had one season so negatively affected by COVID, arguably more than any team in sports.